Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board places superintendent on leave

Dr. Denise Birdwell

Scottsdale Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell has been placed on paid administrative leave following a unanimous vote by the local Governing Board Wednesday, Feb. 21.

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board called a 3 p.m. executive session and special meeting at Mohave District Annex, 8500 E. Jackrabbit Road in Scottsdale.

“At this point, I will make a motion that in the consideration of the best interest of the district, Dr. Birdwell be placed on temporary paid administrative leave, and that counsel for the district proceed as directed in executive session,” President Barbara Perleberg said, upon reconvening their special meeting several hours later.

Governing Board member Pam Kirby seconded the motion. It passed with a 5-0 vote.

The Governing Board also accepted Chief Operations Officer Louis Hartwell’s resignation effective June 30. Mr. Hartwell’s resignation was announced by Dr. Birdwell on Tuesday, Feb. 13, at a regular Governing Board meeting.

The Governing Board voted 5-0 to accept Mr. Hartwell’s resignation and directed district counsel to proceed as instructed in executive session.

The Scottsdale Unified School District’s communication’s office released an official statement just before 9 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21 announcing the board’s decision.

“At a special Governing Board meeting held on Feb. 21, 2018, the Governing Board determined that it was in the best interest of the Scottsdale Unified School District to place Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell on a temporary paid administrative leave of absence. As this is an ongoing personnel matter, no further details can be shared at this time,” the email from Public Information and Marketing Officer Erin Helm said.

The Governing Board’s executive session agenda included discussion and consultation for legal advice concerning:

  • Ms. (Laura) Smith’s conflict of interest as a result of her sister’s interest in the Professional Group Public Consulting, Inc.;
  • Terms of the contract between 1GPA and Hunt & Caraway for architect services;
  • The amount of compensation invoiced by and/or paid to Hunt & Caraway for work performed by Hunt & Caraway;
  • The status of work awarded to Hunt & Caraway previously;
  • The status of current negotiations with Hunt & Caraway representatives;
  • The status of the Attorney General investigation.

Dr. Birdwell was present at the start of the special meeting, but did not return to the dais following the executive session.

The Feb. 21 meeting follows a public rally prior to the Feb. 13 Governing Board meeting where Scottsdale community members called for the resignation of Dr. Birdwell in the front of Coronado High School.

Former school district Chief Financial Officer, Laura Smith, resigned from SUSD on Jan. 26, following being placed on administrative leave days earlier. On Jan. 30, Gust Rosenfeld attorney Susan Segal, told district officials that she believed Ms. Smith’s ties to Professional Group Public Consulting, Inc. were in violation of Arizona law.

Both Ms. Smith’s and Mr. Hartwell’s employments at SUSD were at the forefront of the rally calling for new district leadership. Participants cited the need for a new superintendent, new Governing Board, and fiscal responsibility, among a bevy of other things.

Mr. Hartwell was hired on Oct. 3, 2016, according to SUSD Governing Board documents. The SUSD website says his responsibilities include bond and override management, forecast planning, facilities management, asset management.

Community members claim Mr. Hartwell’s hiring is a form of nepotism, and that he was unqualified for his position.

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at or can be followed on Twitter at

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